Bob Dylan performed in Boston on November. 16 at the Agganis Arena beginning at about 8:45 pm.
He was preceded by Mavis Staples, whose affection, energy and spirit were uplifting. She spoke of “Bobby, indeed” without a lot of words but at the start expressed how honored she was to open for him and loved his music. Dylan had his Oscar on the amplifier as usual – and something else gold and fancy. There was also the usual bust of a pretty young woman in a James Whistler-style. As I write, I am listening to Dylan sing “Early mornin’ rain” on a Boston local public radio station. Is there anything this lyricist-singer can’t do?
The performance was spectacular because Dylan’s voice was deep and clear – I even heard a vibrato occasionally. It was just about 90 mins. The lights turned off – and then back on – between songs, no speaking to the audience. I understand this because previously, if he simply says “hello” or “thank you” the audience yells – demands new songs, asks questions, is rather annoying and I have seen some jump on to the stage with him. No cell phone on were permitted; not binoculars in the first rows, no picture-taking.
He rearranged many songs – some hardly recognizable at first (except to fans like me) – he wore no hat so his long curly, now grey, hair was easily seen.
His re-do of Desolation Row was questionable – but if he likes it this way is good enough for me. As I think about this performance, it was a greeting from an ageing Dylan who is still musically-inspired by what emanates from inside him. His joy is palpable, and it spread around the arena. This is a Dylan who is taking us into the future – and is celebrating the present with his endless touring – and is not grooving in the past. A Washington Post article by Joe Heim, Nov. 15, says the show at the Anthem was “riveting and oddly removed.” I would argue that is about us – not Bob Dylan.
The night after Dylan’s performance, I attended a performance at the first benefits-coffee house in the Boston area, and heard a band and a duo sing songs that originated in the Dylan era or which were influenced by him: Tom Wait’s O1’ 55, “Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck”, and Starry Starry Night (Don McLean), and Tall Pines by Laurie Larson.
While listening, all I could think about were those who have passed and who influenced Dylan: Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie particularly, and those he adored: Levon Helm and Tom Petty. This Friday night coffee house is not the Café Wha?” in Greenwich Village but its history begins there. And with Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Peter Yarrow and so many others who appeared in the Village.
Singing about how he feels, and writing about things that had not been done previously – Bob Dylan knew at age 21 he was bringing something new to writing and singing in the early 60s, and of course first in Greenwich Village. So those of us who follow him closely value his archive, his gifts to us – and thus a show that re-orders his hits, and includes covers of the classic American songs can be confusing.
Yet, I feel his current work displays some gratitude for his influences, his acknowledged freedom to be who he is, and to bring truth to our world. His new bootleg, “Trouble No More, Volume 13,” and the extensive liner notes by Rob Bowman (a co-producer of Grammy-award winning “Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records”) speak of its relevance to today. And our own acceptance or rejection of Dylan’s works is about us – not him.
His passion for his songs continues, unabated. We can all learn from this. His Christian period was short-lived as we know: his Jewish heritage continued to figure into his personal reflections and story-telling, as documented by Seth Rogovoy, his Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet.
During the performance, I watched Dylan sit and bend over his piano – and when standing – cautiously swing from side to side during the set; he wore his dark pants with white stripes and his usual white boots. At the mic by himself, he sang Autumn Leaves and Melancholy Mood – these tell us about growing older, and valuing relationships and potential romance.
Is this the Dylan we’ve always known? Yes, and he is older and appreciating the meditative value of such songs and their longevity. Love Sick was the ending but not before he came back for an encore of Blowin’ in the Wind and Ballad of a Thin Man; the last is a favorite of mine. While re-arrangements lack the defiance and anger one could suppose in the original songs, the lyrics-messages still ring loud and clear and there are still the provocations he creates through his more mysterious allegories and assertions.
I felt his band had more than a rock and roll energy – and I am not sure how one would describe it. Occasionally, it overwhelmed the Dylan vocals. This was not because the audio was poor, but the band simply dominated from time to time. I would have liked if they were a bit more background, not the “star.” But obviously what they did is exactly what Dylan wanted. It was 90 min. exactly and then featured the two encores. Lots of people standing and dancing – an affectionate crowd of all ages in a really nice venue at Boston University.
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.